Cursory, Convenient Connections
I’ve always found ethnicity to be an interesting subject, perhaps because my ethnic background is relatively unique… at least among those with whom I grew up. My friends were always intrigued with the fact that my mother is a Canadian citizen; they also were quietly disapproving of my father’s Jewish heritage. See, I attended a private, Christian school for fourteen years, so anything outside of the “norm” was carefully scrutinized. Sometimes connections were made between my behavior and my ethnic roots. If a friend tries to get under my skin and I remain unprovoked? Perhaps it’s because I’m passive like Canada, merely a soft-spoken, passionless hat for the United States. Not willing to spend $80 for a concert which doesn’t interest me? I’m a cheap Jew. These things obviously bothered me (and may offend you), but I always shrugged off the comments as irrelevant and uninformed.
I don’t mean to make this post about the ignorance of children. The real issue is with the spurious cause-and-effect relationships drawn by people with respect to ethnicity. Our race and ethnic background, by and large, doesn’t determine what we ultimately become. Sure, there are genetic disorders related to certain ethnic backgrounds – such as Tay-Sachs being more prevalent for Ashkenazi Jews – but the same cannot be unequivocally said for our behavior and personality traits. Even so, I think there is a social construction present which makes certain behavior patterns more likely for certain ethnic groups. Still, I try to be cautious when making these generalizations, for stereotypical judgments do not encompass the entire scope of reality.
I feel as though I’m laboring to make a succinct point, but I’ll give it a shot: myself and my friends (and I assume others and their friends) make illogical and inconsistent connections between one’s ethnic background and his or her subsequent characteristics and behavior. Many of us are guilty of making associations between Asian immigrants and increased aptitude for math and science, even though this myth hardly tells the whole story of the situation. I guess we use this heuristic because we’re lazy, or because we tend to discriminate, or because we just don’t care to see the truth. I try not to make quick, ill-formed judgments about people based on their appearance and ethnic background, but sometimes I find myself falling into that trap. At those points of failure, it’s helpful for me to remember the times when I was pigeon-holed for my ethnic background. We have no choice about passing on my genetic background to future members of my family, but we can work to stop perpetuating these myths.